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[Weekender] ‘Chi-maek’ spuns culture of its own

Move over Colonel Sanders, because KFC is starting to take on a whole new meaning -- Korean Fried Chicken.

Korea’s popular pairing of fried chicken with ice-cold draft beer -- or what locals refer to as “chi-maek” -- has spun a culture of its own across the peninsula and international borders.

Korean fried chicken is slowly emerging as staple food here along with the likes of kimchi and bibimbap.

Scene from last year‘s annual Daegu Chicken and Beer Festival, which attracted nearly one million visitor to the Duryu Par in Daegu last July. (Daegu Chicken and Beer Festival)
Scene from last year‘s annual Daegu Chicken and Beer Festival, which attracted nearly one million visitor to the Duryu Par in Daegu last July. (Daegu Chicken and Beer Festival)

Chicken has become such an integral part of Korean culture that there have even been festivals and celebrations in its honor, such as the annual Daegu Chicken and Beer Festival held at Duryu Park in Dalseo-gu, Daegu.

First launched in 2013, the annual Daegu Chicken and Beer Festival continues to grow in scale as one of Daegu’s biggest festivals. It attracted around 1 million visitors last year, nearly double that of the previous year.

Fried chicken has become so popular that it is no longer just confined to casual dining. It has made its way onto the menus of several local luxury hotels that are known for their upscale, fine dining.

The Sheraton Seoul D Cube City Hotel on Monday announced plans to launch “Devil’s Chicken” which offers diners crispy fried chicken with a variety of sauces every Friday starting June 3.

“Korean dramas like ‘My Love From the Star’ became very popular among foreigners and it caused a craze for fried chicken and beer in Korea,” said the Sheraton’s Food & Beverage manager Candy Lee.

“Chicken has been becoming more popular among foreigners and we thought it would be a chance for our hotel guests to experience chicken culture in Korea. Also we wanted to present chicken as one of the cultural trends in Korea, we are targeting not only our local guests but also attracting people from abroad,” she added. “We don’t think a hotel needs to stick to something fancy or luxurious. We always need to follow trends.”

A promotional image for the Sheraton Seoul D Cube City Hotel’s upcoming “Devil‘s Chicken“ weekly semi-buffet event, which will kick-off starting June 3. (Sheraton Seoul D Cube City Hotel)
A promotional image for the Sheraton Seoul D Cube City Hotel’s upcoming “Devil‘s Chicken“ weekly semi-buffet event, which will kick-off starting June 3. (Sheraton Seoul D Cube City Hotel)

The SBS hit drama “My Love From the Star” (2013) has been widely credited as the reason why Korea’s chi-maek culture struck gold in mainland China, where the consumption of the famed chicken and beer combo skyrocketed with the airing of the show. Last year it was reported that more than 3 million posts on Weibo were related to “Chi-maek.”

In March, some 4,500 Chinese workers flooded the streets of Wolmido Island in Incheon for a large-scale chicken and beer party, as part of a company’s week-long business trip in Korea.

Hallyu is also credited as one of the main engines driving the popularity of Korean-style fried chicken. A large number of Korea’s major chicken chains have also expanded internationally including Genesis BBQ, Pelicana and Kyochon Chicken.

Genesis BBQ, the country’s largest fried chicken franchise, currently operates 350 stores in 30 countries, including China and the United States, with plans to open 50,000 more international franchises by 2020. 

By Julie Jackson (juliejackson@heraldcorp.com)
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